OBLIQUE: D.G. Meyers wrote an article to the "Commentary" magazine a few years back stating that literary journalism is fancy journalism, highbrow journalism. He identifies it as journalism plus fine writing. "It is journalism with literary pretensions", he writes. With this in mind, is it correct to assume you are a literary journalist, a literature enthusiastic, a journalist, a critic or something else that I have not considered?
DANIEL BENEVIDES: I assume Meyers's comments were a bit sarcastic or simply dismissive, weren't they? Well, intended or not, I think that in journalism you must write according to the subject you are addressing. As complex as literature is, any article, essay or even an interview about it will have a level of complexity. And by this I don't mean beyond reach, not at all! The point is that literature is not about facts. there's a lot of subjectivity involved in its appreciation and enjoyment. So, putting apart words like "fancy" and "literary pretensions", terms that I certainly don't like, yes, it's correct to assume I'm those terrible names you call me.
O: Still taking D.G. Meyers comments as a hook, do you have any literary pretensions?
DB: I do, but not as a critic.
O: The days of print press seem to be long gone, which I find a shame, just for the record. The majority of the literature critics use online sites and vehicles to express their views on the latest books. Would you say that the format of the literature reviews is the least of the worries, as we watch a trend of such reviews being written by friends about friends? In what extend this relavitely dishonest or biased content can corrupt the essence of a good review? Would it be better to say nothing if you have nothing to say?
DB: I think it's just a matter of finding the critics you have affinity with. However, the cultural debate must prevail. There has been times when I wrote reviews of friends' books which, perhaps, were not particularly highly favourable or flattering and the writers might have been upset about the comments made. But the critical discussion is more important in literature, so an honest and plausible review must come first.
O: What is the use of a literary review?
DB: There's a simple answer and a more complete one to that question. The first one is: to point out which books are worth to spending hours reading and the reasons why. The second and a more interesting one is to expand the joy of reading some books that may seem like an impenetrable jungle in a first expedition, but hide more pleasures and understanding of the human soul that we could imagine at first sight. Literary critics are guides in these jungles. They open clearings in the dark.
O: Literature awards: essential or more of the same?
DB: Essencial. They put the lights on great books that otherwise would go unnoticed. On the other hand, a lot of good literature still goes unnoticed even with literary awards, as there can be a lot of commercial interest behind them. There should be a more critical review in order to assess all the talent that might be hidden .
O: What is the last book you bought and are you able to choose the best 5 of this year so far?
DB: The Vegetarian, by the south korean writer Han Kang, wich I found fabulous.
Five books I can choose are:
The Sellout, by Paul beatty (O Vendido, Todavia), best book in decades
A Manual for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin (Manual da Faxineira, Companhia das Letras)
Laços, by Domenico Starnone (Todavia)
qvasi, by Edimilson de Almeida Pereira (poemas, editora 34)
Uma História do Samba - as origens, by Lira Neto (Companhia das Letras)
O: Literature made by women: there were some criticism this month about the São Paulo literature awards not picking some excellent books of last year written, coincidently, by women such as Elvira Vigna and Luciana Hidalgo to say a few. Is it a battle women must fight regardless or is it purely a cultural delay as the literary world was dominated by men until not too long ago?
DB: I'm sure there must be more balance between gender presence and literary prizes - there are lots of great women writers forgotten in the literary world unfortunatelly still controlled by men, and the excellent examples you gave are just a few of them.